Walking onto the field at Modern Woodmen Park on Monday for the first time as a professional, Matt Brill savored the moment.
“I’ve played a few games here in the past, but this is different,'' said Brill, a Moline graduate from Coal Valley now pitching for Kane County in the Midwest League. "It’s what I dreamed about, getting the chance to play the game here as a professional.
“I’m excited to be home, to have the chance play in the Midwest in front of family and friends. It’s a great opportunity and I’m working to make the most of it.’’
Brill is working out of the bullpen for the Cougars at the onset of the season, but he brought a 1-0 record into Monday’s Midwest League game against the Quad-Cities River Bandits.
The 6-foot-2 righthander earned his team’s first victory of the season when he followed a strong 4.2-inning start by Brian Shaffer with 1.1 innings of relief work in the opening game of a doubleheader Sunday at Clinton.
Brill has fielded a few ticket requests for games during Kane County’s four-game series in Quad-Cities and in addition to getting a chance to talk with family and friends, he expects to find time to enjoy a couple of meals at his favorite hometown restaurants.
“It’s all good,’’ Brill said.
Selected by the Diamondbacks in the 12th round of baseball’s 2017 draft following a collegiate career at Appalachian State, Brill spent last season in a late-inning relief role at short-season Hillsboro in the Northwest League.
He finished his first season with a 1-1 record and two saves to go with an earned run average of 0.89 in 18 appearances over 20.1 innings. It's experience he now draws on as he prepares for the 140-game marathon that began last week.
“I spent a lot of time during the winter working to build up my strength to get ready my first full season,’’ Brill said. “I built up my body, have a good nutritional plan and I’m taking good care of my arm to be ready whenever I’m needed.’’
Brill shuttled between the Quad-Cities and the Diamondbacks’ facilities during the offseason before an early arrival at Arizona’s spring training.
“It was good to get out in the warmth and have a chance play a little catch in the warmth and get ready for the year,’’ he said. “I was able to get the work in I needed to get ready the start of the season.’’
Brill said his role last season also prepared him well.
“Hillsboro was a good place to start and the short season gave me a chance to get adjusted to pro ball and get a good start as a professional,’’ Brill said. “I learned a lot last season and I’m sure I’ll continue to learn at this level.’’
At this point, Brill continues to maintain an approach that worked well for him last season.
He’s less concerned about having a defined role and more focused on taking things as they come, one pitch at a time.
“When I’m on the mound, it’s just a game of catch, just me and the catcher,’’ Brill said. “That’s the way it’s always been and the way it will always be.’’